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- Leaner legs - the basics
- Work the Legs
- The Side-to-Side Squat
- 'Round the Clock Lunges
- Tone the Legs with Pilates Side Kicks
An area of concern for many women - no matter what age - is the shape, tone and length of muscle of our legs. The suppleness of front, back, sidelines of the legs and surely the curve of the derriere are the parts of our bodies that get a lot of focus and attention in everything we do, every way we move and everywhere we come and go. Why not spend a minimum of twenty minutes a session, twice a week, shaping and toning these lifelong supports to mental and physical health and beauty.
Two easy, but very efficient leg workouts are simple squats and lunges. Sure, you can make the exercise more intense by adding weights for added resistance while you work (e.g., dumbbells of 8, 10lbs; a 2, 4, 6lb medicine ball, or even a weighted bar) or you can perform the following exercise using your own body weight as the resistance.
Starting with the Right Leg and:
- stand tall with both feet parallel and closed in a narrow stance (both feet directly under your pelvis)
- holding the Left Foot in place, step the right leg horizontally to the right of your body, bend both knees into a squat and hold for a three second count
- press off the right foot and stand, returning both feet to the starting position
- holding the Right Foot in place, step the LEFT leg horizontally to the left side of your body, bend both knees into the squat, holding for a three-second count; press off the left foot and stand tall.
Repeat the sequence ten (10) times for each leg.
Be mindful to keep the torso aligned over your pelvis; keep the abdominals pulled in and up; knees tracking over the ankles - not the toes for full squat alignment. You will work your quadriceps, adductors and glutes and build strength in the muscles of your legs. Add extra resistance after you can master this move with ease.
Forward and backward lunges are pretty straight forward (no pun intended) and are used to build and shape the quadricep, hamstrings and glutes.
Begin with both feet in a parallel, narrow stance. Instead of moving the body horizontally, as outlined above, start with the Right Leg and:
- step forward to firmly place the foot forward enough such that your knee aligns directly over the ankle and the quadricep is parallel to the floor - as you bend the knee
- as you do above, simplyhold the left foot in place, rolling thru to the ball of the foot (the heel will lift from the floor) hold the position for a three-second count
- press off the right foot to return to the standing position.
Repeat with the sequence with Left Leg for ten (10) repetitions for each leg FORWARD (as if lunging to 12 O'clock) and BACKWARD (as if lunging to 6 o'clock). Oh the burn of it all!
To build muscle, tone and strengthen the inner and outer thighs (adductors and abductors), I encourage the use of four additional clock points; 2 and 5 (for the Right Leg) 7 and 10 (for the Left Leg). In so doing, simply keep the pelvis square and aligned and open the leg to place the foot at the respective clock point.
The whole sequence will take you no more than 7-10 minutes and will create a little perspiration on your brow and down your back, for sure!
I use the Pilates Side Kicks to further tone and lengthen the muscle of the sidelines, glutes and encourage use, strength and stability development of the abdominal trunk, particularly the back erectors and obliques.
Beginning with the Right Leg
(Set Up) Lie down on a mat and align your left elbow, shoulder, hips and spine at the back edge of the mat, as if it was a brick wall. Place your left hand under your head to support your head and neck. Lift your abdominals in and up and be mindful to keep your back firmly pressed against the "wall" of your abdominals. Stack your legs and bring the heels to the front edge of the mat, stacking the Right Leg atop the bottom leg:
- engage your abdominals and lift the long straight leg to hip level; flex the foot and lengthen the leg bringing top heel over bottom heel
- inhale to lift the leg 4 inches (10cm) and then
- exhale to slowly lower it to the hip level
Repeat this action 10 times. Keep the abdominal wall strongly lifted. Maintain spinal alignment.
Work the Hips and Glutes
(Set Up) Rotate the right hip open, knee and toe reach to the ceiling:
- kick the straight leg forward, while maintaining core and spinal alignment
- return the leg to the bottom heel. Work to maintain the hip rotation, keeping the knee and toe reaching to the ceiling and the lift and length of the abdominals for stability
Repeat this sequence for 8-10 repetitions. Flip to the other side of your mat and perform the same work for the other leg. This entire series will take no more than 10 minutes and will greatly tone and lengthen the outer leg, hips and glute.
Finish with stretching exercises of your choice and repeat the work 2-3x a week and start to pay attention to what happens when you enter and leave a room!
This article was written by Gina Jackson, MBA, CPT, who holds an Advanced PFT recognition as a member of the International Association of Fitness Professionals (IDEA); maintains affiliate membership in the National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT) and is certified as a Power Pilates Teacher and a proud Business Member of the Pilates Method Alliance.
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